Dan Faill of ‘Faill Safe Solutions’ On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
15 min readMay 6, 2022

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Create a safe environment. Both physically and psychologically safe. I believe one of the main reasons we don’t take more chances to fail, is because we don’t feel safe enough to do so. Maybe we’re worried about losing our job or a promotion, or we’ll be ridiculed by friends, family or strangers on the internet. That fear of what others will say or think of you can really affect how we want to show up and consider failing. We need to ensure our friends, colleagues, whomever feel valued and safe enough to want to try something new, and maybe fail along the way.

The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dan Faill.

Over-involved student leader. Fraternity member. Graduate student. Husband. Father. Ex-Husband. Imposter. Failure. These are just a few of the titles Dan has had over the course of his life.

As an accomplished storyteller and international speaker, Dan incorporates his own lived experiences, in addition to industry-proven research, to craft engaging and relatable experiences for audiences. Having worked for 15 years on college campuses advocating for safe and positive student communities, Dan now travels the country as a full-time speaker and consultant, engaging audiences in hard but needed topics. He creates spaces that engage and inspire us to be our authentic selves, and be brave enough to have the conversations that matter. Dan lives in Los Angeles and co-parents with his spouse-emeritus, while cheering on his sporty daughter and serving as set dad for his acting son.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

And I appreciate y’all having me back! Well, when it comes to failure, I guess you could say I was born into it, seeing as my last name is Faill. In school I’m pretty sure I heard every iteration of failing classes or hoping I don’t fail a test. Come to think of it, I did do pretty well in classes and can’t remember ever getting an F in anything, so I’d say it worked out ok! I also think growing up with a last name like this kind of ensures some sense of grit when it comes to success… or at least gives you a great sense of humor and ability to laugh at yourself. Ok so a little more backstory: I’m originally from Wilmington, North Carolina and wanted to be an actor — the ultimate irony is that now I live in Los Angeles and don’t have a desire to be an actor anymore. For a little over 15 years, I worked in the higher education space, specifically with students and student organizations, helping them prepare for their leadership journey, or creating safer social experiences, or just helping them process life and the road ahead. Then in fall 2018 I decided to take a leap and make my side hustle of speaking and facilitating impactful workshops a full-time endeavor. That journey has had its own ups, downs, failures, successes and wtf moments for sure, and honestly I’m the better for it all.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Like I mentioned, in the fall of 2018 I took the leap to become a full-time professional speaker. What I didn’t say is that I had been thinking about it and putting it off for about a decade. I was letting my own fear of failure dictate my choices (or lack thereof). I remember not being super happy with a meeting I had just gotten out of, and was kind of feeling deflated with my job as a whole. But thankfully it was lunch time, and I told myself I was going to take an extended lunch. I sat outside on the balcony, pulled out a sandwich and chips and had that crisp sound of opening a soda. It was a gorgeous southern California summer day with great weather (not too hot with a nice breeze), complete with birds singing. And then a bird crapped on me. It was such a large splat that it hit my shoulder and even got some on my sandwich and the rim of my soda can. And I remember thinking that the day had quite literally gone to crap. And I kid you not, within a minute my phone rang with an opportunity to serve as a consultant that fall for an international organization, but I would need to do it full time. So there I was, bird crap on my shoulder, sandwich and drink, faced with the comfort of staying in a job I was ok with, or taking leap and hoping it all worked out. I went back to my desk (well first I went to the bathroom to wash off the bird droppings), and just…sat. I sat in worry, in concern, in feelings of excitement and dread, wondering if I could actually pull it off. The rest of the afternoon and evening was a bit of a blur, but that evening I found myself at my laptop typing a letter of resignation. So you could say I owe it to where I’m at today because of a load of crap.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Cautious optimism. To quote Monty Python, “Always look on the bright side of life.” Even when things don’t feel great, I try to either look for a silver lining, or at least have a cautiously optimistic outlook. No, I don’t mean the “this is fine” meme with the cartoon dog sitting in a chair while everything is on fire around him; I mean looking for the opportunity in the chaos. A mentor of mine once said “your mess is your message” and it’s so true. As a professional speaker my imperfections and messy past have shaped who I am, and by sharing that vulnerability from the stage, I know we can connect on a deeper level. Or maybe that’s just my optimism talking.

Daydreaming. Hear me out on this one. We don’t take enough time to pause, to daydream and imagine “what if?” When I was in an office job with staff, I think they would often get annoyed when I would come up with a random idea or keep asking ‘what if’, always dreaming about what’s next or what could be. I believe that level of daydreaming, to imagine the possibilities has been forgotten when we have grind at a computer screen all day.

A sense of humor. A laugh can make nearly anything better. I believe that my sense of humor (dad puns and all) are one of the reasons I am where I am today. One of my coping mechanisms is humor, so when things get uncomfortable, I might be one of the first to crack a joke. I’m that dad in the elevator who says something asinine when the door closes and everyone gets quiet. That humor and approach to life can really help us lighten a heavy situation and release some stress.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?

Atychiphobia is the fear of failure. If you had as much trouble pronouncing that as I did, and still don’t think you got it right, congrats, we’ve failed together just now. I was in a Clubhouse room of other coaches and speakers and one of them said “it’s not that we’re afraid of what to say, it’s that we’re afraid of what others will say about us.” And that’s some truth right there. I think we’ve become afraid to fail because of two things: the connotation of failure, and being seen/referred to as a failure. We, as a society, have made failure seem like a bad thing. Some of our greatest advancements in science and life in general have come from failures. I think failure is frightening because we’ve taken the safety out of failing. People are afraid to try something new in their job because they might get fired. Others are afraid to mention a new idea because they’re worried they might get made fun of. Failure feels frightening because we don’t feel safe to share the vulnerability of failure.

What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?

Fear of failure limits so much of our potential. In most cases, we’ve talked ourselves out of something before we even truly think about the possibilities. The fear takes hold and paralyzes us, keeping us from trying new things, or self-sabotaging something in our life. This fear can also affect our own self-image and confidence. Perfect is impossible, and the desire for perfectionism is causing us to compare ourselves to others in an unproductive way that also brings about that fear of failing and not being seen as perfect. Spoiler alert: no one is perfect and we all fail at something. The fear of failure is seen as a downward spiral. My sincerest hope is that we can see failure as an upward spring. Because being afraid also can mean you’re excited about something.

In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?

Just look at some of the failure-related inspirational quotes out there: from Gretzky’s “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” to Michael Jordan’s “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots…I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed” to Albert Einstein’s “a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Failure is quite literally all around us.

Let’s think about it another way: none of us were born and able to walk or talk right away. We fell down, we mumbled words, we kept trying and getting bruises on our bodies until we got it right (and some of us still bump into things and get bruises, and that’s ok haha — it’s about progress not perfection). By viewing failures as opportunities to learn something new, we can unlock a new mindset, one that’s grounded in thinking more productively, positively and openly. You can view failures as part of a larger journey, kind of like speed bumps in a road. It’s about the destination, not the potholes along the way. Because then failure isn’t as intimidating, it shifts from being afraid to being excited.

We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?

I’ve got so many stories of failing I don’t even know where to begin! Do I discuss failing in my original career path of wanting to be an actor? Or maybe being divorced and how I failed at a marriage? Or maybe how I failed at working in a cubicle? Or even how I fail sometimes in my current job as a professional speaker? I’ll go with the failure I experienced over the last several years in the midst of the pandemic. There I was, coming off an amazing February 2020 conference speaking month, gearing up for a good March and an even better April, and then all of a sudden, in a matter of days, my entire calendar went from packed to empty. When you’re a public speaker and then have no public to speak in front of, I felt like I suddenly lost purpose and meaning. It was weird. I had some speaking friends who made a quick pivot and went virtual, providing online trainings and writing books and doing all of the productive things humans could do. What was I doing? Mourning the loss of so much while curled up in fetal position on my couch, eating and drinking all the things and wondering if I made the right decision to be a speaker in the first place. Wondering if I was a failure because I wasn’t as productive as others were being. Wondering I was a failure because I hadn’t saved enough, or couldn’t provide for my kids anymore, or, or, or…the list kept going. For the better part of 2020 I was not in a good place, feeling like an utter failure as a speaker, and quite honestly as a human too.

How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?

First off, what kept me grounded were two things: my friends and our weekly zoom calls, and weekly therapy. While I would consider myself still in the rebound phased of post-pandemic speaking, I had a breakthrough in December 2020. And it all centered around my mindset. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those people who scoffed at mindset or manifestation or vibration types of people. But after months of self-loathing and failure, I figured what did I have to lose, and signed up for a virtual course. And day one was all mindset work, getting unstuck from the little lies I’d been telling myself for the pandemic, and most of life.

I’ve done my best to shift how I view these various failures by reminding myself that F.A.I.L. can also mean that Failures Are Intentional Lessons. I can look back at my past and have regret, or I can look back and reflect, turning those failures into opportunities to learn and grow. That mindset has helped me see the little wins that happen on a daily basis, how even though I might not feel productive and just ‘busy’ that I was still doing work. How I’m doing the best I can with what I have in this moment, and that’s good enough. And that’s what I’d tell others: that they are good enough, they can define what success looks like for themselves, and that failures are nothing to be ashamed of and should be celebrated openly.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Create a safe environment. Both physically and psychologically safe. I believe one of the main reasons we don’t take more chances to fail, is because we don’t feel safe enough to do so. Maybe we’re worried about losing our job or a promotion, or we’ll be ridiculed by friends, family or strangers on the internet. That fear of what others will say or think of you can really affect how we want to show up and consider failing. We need to ensure our friends, colleagues, whomever feel valued and safe enough to want to try something new, and maybe fail along the way.
  2. Be vulnerable. It’s ok to fail. We’ve all failed at something at some time, however it’s the ability to talk about those failures that can make an incredible impact on others. By sharing our failures, it’s an exercise in vulnerability. My friend James Robilotta says that “if vulnerability is a weakness, then why is it so hard to do?” And he’s right — being vulnerable and sharing parts of yourself are perfect examples of strength and resiliency. The more we talk about failure in a vulnerable and open way, the less scary it becomes.
  3. Get bored. You know those moments when genius strikes? Usually it’s when you’re in the shower or bath, or trying to fall asleep, or taking a walk. Those boredom moments are needed, now more than ever. We’ve got this distraction in our hands all the time (you actually could be reading this from said mobile distraction now). We need to create spaces for us to be bored and let our minds roam — because in those moments can come wonderful ideas to try something new or create the next best thing. Boredom can lead to creativity, which leads me to the next step:
  4. Get passionate. Whenever we have an incredible idea, usually we like to share it with someone. That passion is contagious. Maybe it’s asking your friends or colleagues to hold you accountable to trying that something new. Maybe you find your mind constantly coming back to that creative idea and you just want to do make it happen at all costs. Your passion (and actions on that passion) will determine your perseverance to keep trying or give up and call it a failure. But that’s up to step five:
  5. Learn from failures. There are countless ways to learn from failures, either your own or others. You can read books or articles about how the most successful people in the world failed, and there’s one thing each of them did: they learned from their failures and tried again. Our ability to see failing as an opportunity to learn is an incredible strength, as opposed to being afraid of failing and thus never trying. Personally, I’ve never liked the quote “what would you do if you knew you could not fail.” I quite literally I loathe that quote. Because if you knew you couldn’t fail, would you even try in the first place? And if you’re not trying, you’re not learning.

The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?

I think there are several ways to interpret this quote. For me, I think it is possible to succeed in many ways (after all, who is the person defining success?). However, if I had to specifically posit the last part of his quote, “to succeed only in one way,” that one way would be learning from said failings. Because only in learning from failing will we truly succeed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I want to create the conversations that matter. Too often we throw away conversations every day. We ask someone how they’re doing and are ok with a “fine” or “busy” response. We don’t ask the follow up questions. We don’t dig in with curiosity as we learn about others. Conversations have become transactional, and that’s not a conversation, that’s a dialogue, a script where it’s your turn-my turn-your turn. I believe we should be able to talk about hard topics while treating each other with civility. I also don’t believe heavy topics need to be so serious in how we educate others. My way is a way, not the way. Only by putting our egos aside and approaching people with curiosity and vulnerability will we be able to connect on a truly human level. That’s the movement I want: to create the conversations that matter.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

I mean if we’re going for moon shots, I’d love to have breakfast with former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama. I feel both offer some incredible insight and perspectives on this topic, but also the intersectionality of identities and how they can also shape failure, vulnerability, and connectedness.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Well, with such an original name I was able to snag @DanFaill on all the social medial platforms: IG, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and even www.DanFaill.com. I’ve got some fun blog posts and podcast guest appearances on the website, so feel free to give a read and listen, and reach out if I can ever be of service to you, your company or in whatever way possible.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

And thank y’all so much for having me as a part of this, I really hope it helps others become more free to fail!

About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.

Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.

He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.

Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), Journalist, Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor